The thing about being used to sleeping both with and next to someone is that it’s damn hard to go to sleep when you’re all alone in the bed.
The sex I could do without for a week, but the absence of Kristian’s warm presence next to me… that was harder to bear.
Why did Dad have to become all domestic and shit and want to spend Christmas with me now? And not just me, but Anna and Kristian as well—and Kristian was just in the next room, camped out on the sofa in Dad’s office instead of in bed with me.
Because Dad didn’t know about us. Neither did Anna. And I had no idea what would happen when they did find out. But as the holiday dragged on and I spent my nights alone, I was increasingly starting not to care.
Not that I thought my dad had any right to be informed of my love life, but I also wanted to be able to sleep in the same bed as my boyfriend.
‘Don’t worry about it,’ Kristian told me quietly on Christmas Eve, squeezing my knee under the table. ‘We’ll be home soon.’
Which would definitely be nice, except at dinner that evening Anna started asking questions. Questions it was damn hard to answer while keeping our relationship a secret.
‘I’m guessing you’re staying on Svalbard, Andreas? Since you’ve been there so long. Over a year now. A year and a half, actually.’ She piled food on her plate as she spoke.
‘Yeah. I like my job, so I’m not about to leave it anytime soon.’ And now my leg was back to normal, I could actually do my job. The summer months had been horrible, as I’d either had to stay cooped up at home or inside the office at work.
I could feed the dogs, but it had taken twice as long as usual. I could help put their gear on, but I couldn’t train them or go out with tourists. Summer was our busiest season—and I’d been incapacitated. That had certainly been a blow.
‘That’s nice.’ Anna smiled and handed the deep dish with potatoes over to Dad. ‘Have you started looking at a place of your own to live, then?’
And there it was. The dreaded question.
‘It’s convenient for him to live with me,’ Kristian shot in, taking the potatoes from Dad. ‘We work together so it only makes sense we carpool.’
‘But don’t you want your house to yourself soon?’ Her question was likely meant in the best possible way, but it annoyed me to no end. ‘What if you meet someone?’ And that annoyed me even more.
I didn’t know why, because I was usually pretty calm about, well, everything. Unless it was Varg talking about sex, but really… he shared too much.
Kristian chuckled. ‘That’s not very likely. We’re always at work, after all. Besides, I’ve got space. It’s nothing to worry about.’
Anna didn’t seem to want to drop the subject. ‘It’s not impossible to meet someone just because you work a lot. Or because you live on Svalbard.’
Kristian grinned wryly. ‘It’s not all that likely either. Just drop it, Anna.’
I cut meat away from the bone with vigour, fist clenching tight around the knife. Why did she have to ask questions like that? What was it to her anyway? Sure, Kristian was her brother and all, but since when was it her job to tell us how to live our lives? If we wanted to live together, if that was easier for us, so fucking what?
I wasn’t all that hungry anymore, but it was better to be busy eating than just sit around doing nothing.
‘All I’m saying is—’
‘Anna!’ Kristian cut her off gruffly. ‘Right now we’re happy with the current living arrangements. If that changes in the future, then okay, but for now this is what makes the best sense for us.’
‘Yes, sure, but—’
‘There’s no but. We spend all day together at work. We go out to eat dinner with our co-workers most days. What does it matter that at the end of the day we head back to the same house to sleep?’
Well, at least he hadn’t said same bed, which had been the case for the last half a year.
Anna subsided, but she didn’t seem all that happy about it.
‘I suppose it doesn’t matter.’
‘Exactly,’ Kristian said with finality—and that was the end of that. For dinner, anyway.
Kristian and I did clean-up as Anna had made all the food—and bullied Dad into helping her set the table. Usually, years ago, when I’d still used to celebrate Christmas with Dad, we’d had a simple dinner and just taken plates directly from the cabinet and brought it all with us into the living room to spend the evening on the sofa.
‘Well, that was a mess,’ I murmured as I rinsed off the plates and put them in the dishwasher. ‘Should we tell them?’
‘I’m fine either way,’ he said, shrugging lightly as he carried plates over to the counter for me to rinse. ‘It’s all up to you, really.’
Why yes it was. Kristian had already told me this, after all. I was the one who didn’t think Dad—or Anna for that matter—had any business knowing about my love life. That was how Dad and I had always operated. I’d never known his girlfriends through the years—except Anna now. He’d never met mine.
And here I was, now in a relationship with a guy who was not only ten years older than me but Anna’s brother. I couldn’t see Dad taking that well in any sort of scenario I managed to cook up in my head.
‘Whatever you want, Andreas,’ he assured me, clapping me on the back. ‘It’s your Dad.’
‘It’s your sister,’ I mumbled gruffly.
‘Yeah, well. If she doesn’t take it well, it’s nothing much I can do about it, is there? It’s not like we see a lot of each other. Or talk much.’
‘You still talk more than Dad and I do,’ I pointed out drily.
He moved his head a little, thinking. ‘Maybe so, but it’s not like we’re that close. We talk because it’s only the two of us left. Mum and Dad are dead, after all, and Anna’s kids have moved out of the country.’
‘Anna has kids?’ This I didn’t know.
He smiled slightly. ‘Two. A boy and a girl. Well, a man and a woman, I suppose. He’s living down in Thailand with his Thai wife and my niece lives in France.’
‘Huh.’ I put the last plate in the dishwasher and started scrubbing the pans. ‘It’s been two years since I met her and I had no idea.’
He chuckled. ‘You talk less with her than with your dad. Besides, I don’t think Anna has much contact with them anymore except birthdays and holidays.’
What a lovely, tight-knit family we have.
Speaking of… ‘I thought I’d go visit Mum’s grave before we have desert and open presents.’ Presents were something Anna had insisted on, I could’ve just as well have done without them. Dad and I only used to exchange one each back when I was a kid and from the year I’d come of age we’d dropped it entirely. ‘Want to come with?’
‘Sure.’ Kristian grabbed a dish towel and started wiping off the pan I’d just finished. I started in on the second as he put it away and waited patiently for the next one.
‘We’re heading out for a bit!’ I called to Dad as we walked past the living room to the hallway.
‘Where are you going?’ Anna asked, looking over the sofa at us curiously.
‘Cemetary,’ was all I answered, already in the hall by now and pulling my jacket on.
It rained outside. So much for a white Christmas. If we’d stayed on Svalbard we would’ve not just had a white Christmas, but a white December. A white half a year, mostly, as the snow only melted in the summer.
‘I miss home,’ Kristian said, huddling in his own jacket as we walked down the street.
‘Yeah,’ I agreed. ‘Next year we’re spending Christmas at home. I still haven’t celebrated Christmas with you on Svalbard. Last year I celebrated with Varg.’
‘Just the two of us next year?’ He gave a small smile. ‘I like the sound of that. Unless Anna insists they join us.’
I gave a laugh. ‘I doubt she’ll get Dad to leave Oslo for Svalbard.’ If they were even together that long. Then again, she’d stayed with him for two years, so why not another one? Clearly, she saw something in my strict, cold, grumpy old Dad that I didn’t see.
Kristian laughed. ‘Johan is—he doesn’t say much, that’s for sure. Mostly he glowers. I’m not sure he likes me.’
‘That’s Dad’s usual face. He always looks like that.’ I didn’t think Dad didn’t like Kristian—they had had a conversation during dinner last night about Kristian’s work on Svalbard and what exactly it entailed to run such a business. Dad wouldn’t have got involved in such a conversation if he didn’t like him.
The wind was cold and blew the rain all around, mostly straight in our faces. It was horrid—but at the same time it was better than being inside the flat with a silent-as-the-grave Dad and Anna who asked lots of questions.
The cemetery wasn’t that far away, so in fifteen minutes we were there, walking through the dark plot looking for Mum’s stone.
‘Here she is.’ The stone itself was nice, all dark and shiny with gold writing. But other than that, Mum’s grave didn’t look all that appealing. No flowers or grave lights or wreaths like many of the other graves had. Dad wasn’t much of a flowery guy and neither was I.
If the weather cleared up before we headed home, I’d buy a wreath to tie to the stone though. Just to do something for her.
‘How’d she die?’ Kristian asked in a low voice.
‘Cancer.’ When I was way too young. It had been Dad and me, all alone, ever since. ‘What about your parents?’
‘One from cancer and one from a heart attack.’ Kristian came up to stand beside me, looking down at the elegant, gold writing. ‘Cancer’s a pretty common way of dying, isn’t it?’
‘I guess, yeah.’ I’d been ten when Mum died and honestly… I couldn’t remember much from back then. Bits and pieces here and there, like how she used to read to me before bed or how she baked the most awesome cakes.
A pretty heavy gust of wind blew some ice-cold rain in my face and I shuddered. ‘Walk back?’ I asked Kristian.
We walked home faster than we had to the cemetery, simply because the weather was turning even worse. I wondered what Varg was doing now, as he’d been whisked away by Jonathan so the two of them could spend Christmas Eve all alone together.
I sure hope they make up and figure their shit out.
They hadn’t been on steady ground lately.
‘I’ve just started putting out dessert,’ Anna said when we came home, stopping in the doorway to smile at us.
I debated running up to my room to change trousers, but didn’t bother. My jacket had taken most of the rain, after all, so my trousers was only slightly damp.
‘Are we opening presents while we eat?’ I asked, eager to get both dessert and presents over with.
It didn’t take long. It was only the four of us, after all, and Dad and I only had each other. Anna had received presents from her kids too, but that was that.
After we sat around watching TV.
Dad, who usually only watched the news, all night long, was talked into putting on some romantic comedy by Anna.
‘This isn’t a movie for the rest of us,’ Dad grumbled, but he didn’t switch the channel back to the news.
‘It’ll be good for all three of you to watch something like this,’ Anna teased. ‘Maybe you can all pick up some tips for the ladies, huh?’
I didn’t want any tips. I wanted to go to bed—the same bed as the man I usually shared a bed with.
Well, fuck it all.
‘Kristian and I are together.’
The silence those words brought were heavy.
‘What?’ Anna blinked at me.
Dad simply stared.
And Kristian sat stiff next to me.
I let out the breath I’d been holding after I dropped the bomb.
‘Kristian and I are together,’ I repeated, slower this time and in a lower tone of voice. Why the fuck I was sharing it at all was beyond me, except… well, bed. ‘We’ve been together a while. That’s why we still live together. And that’s why we won’t meet anyone and why we don’t need any tips for the ladies.’ That was the most I’d ever spoken to Anna in one turn, come to think of it.
Her lips, which had parted in surprise, now pressed together. Her gaze shot to Kristian, who nodded to confirm her unvoiced question.
‘Together? You two? But…’ She turned to Dad. ‘Johan?’
Dad was scowling more than ever. I stared back, showing him I wasn’t afraid or ashamed, that I wasn’t going to back down.
‘Kristian?’ Anna turned to him instead now. ‘Surely this is a joke? Right?’
‘I wouldn’t joke about something like this!’ I threw a scowl at her now too, then directed it back at Dad.
There was a short, tense silence after that… and then Dad broke our eye contact to look at Kristian too.
‘I sent my son up to Svalbard thinking you’d look after him and help him out. If I’d known this—’
‘Then what?’ I challenged, leaning forward slightly. ‘What would you have done if you’d known? Forbidden me to leave? To take the job? You couldn’t have done that even if you wanted, Dad. It’s my life and I make the decisions, not you. I decide what I want to do with it and you can count yourself lucky if I decide to share with you what’s going on.’
Dad’s eyes had darkened to the point they looked black. ‘He’s a decade older than you!’
‘Nine years actually,’ I pointed out.
‘Same fucking difference!’ Dad stood now, fists clenching. ‘He’s older than you and should know better.’
‘Better than what?’ I rose too so I could be on eye-level with him instead of having him loom over me. ‘Better than what, Dad? Than to find someone you get along with, someone you like to be around, someone you love?’
‘Love? Is that what you think this is? You’ve barely been there a year!’
‘A year’s more than enough time to figure out if I’m in love or not. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t you introduce me to Anna after you’d been seeing each other for only a few months?’ He had no right standing there and be such a hypocrite. Not simply because I was in a relationship with another man. If Kristian had been a woman, he wouldn’t have minded. ‘I’m old enough to know the difference between love and infatuation.’
We’d never said it out loud, not properly, neither of us. But I did love him—and he loved me, and Dad wasn’t going to belittle that. I didn’t like to talk about my love-life, not to Dad or anyone, but I was damn well going to defend it to the end of time.
I glanced over my shoulder at Kristian, who still sat on the sofa. His gaze was on me, green eyes bright with worry over the escalating situation—and probably also with sympathy, because I’d hoped Dad would take it better than this. He probably wanted to help too, but he didn’t know how—didn’t know how to calm Dad down. And was there really anything that could calm Dad down when he got angry? He’d likely fly even more off the handle if Kristian got involved now.
‘Johan—’ Anna tried.
‘Stay out of it.’ He made a cutting motion through the air towards her.
‘I said stay out of it!’
Anna wisely shut up. She still looked stunned, like she had when I’d started this mess.
‘You should follow your own damn order,’ I got out through clenched teeth.
‘What?’ Dad’s voice held a clear warning.
‘To stay out of it.’ I kept my voice low, not wanting to resort to shouting. ‘It’s my life. Stop forcing your opinions on me. I only told you so we wouldn’t have to listen to all the well-meaning bullshit about meeting nice women to settle down with. And so we don’t have to stay in separate rooms anymore, because that’s frankly ridiculous. I may have informed you of this—but you don’t have a say in it. I’m not going to stop being with him simply because you don’t agree we should be together.’
Dad’s face was getting decidedly red. ‘You are not staying in the same room. Not under my roof. This is my home, my rules.’
‘Fine.’ If this was how he wanted to play it… ‘Then consider this our last night here. Tomorrow we’ll go stay with Varg.’
I expected him to press the issue, to shout some more at me, but he only clenched his fists, walked out of the room, and slammed the door after him like a big baby throwing a temper-tantrum.
The silence in the room was deafening.
‘We hadn’t expected this,’ Anna said in a low voice.
‘You think I did?’ Kristian’s voice was exasperated. ‘We didn’t set out for it, you know. It simply… happened.’
Happened, all right.
Lots of sex had happened—and then suddenly it had become more. No one had been more surprised than me—and maybe Kristian, considering he had viewed himself as straight most of his life.
‘I don’t know. You never said anything about liking guys…’
‘That’s because I didn’t. Not before him.’ He looked at me—our gazes met and held. Truth be told, I hadn’t been interested in another guy before him either. I’d been curious about what it would be like to be with a guy, yeah, and had fantasised about it… but I’d never gone and fancied another man before.
‘This has come as a shock, you get that, right?’ Anna wouldn’t look at him. Instead she addressed her knees.
‘Yeah.’ Kristian sighed.
‘And we don’t understand.’
‘What’s to understand?’ I demanded, still keyed up after my argument with Dad and his exit. ‘It’s not for you to understand. This is between us. I told you out of common courtesy—but I fucking regret it now.’
‘You’re not okay with it,’ I continued. ‘Fine. We’ll be out of your hair tomorrow. And until he changes his attitude, I don’t want to hear from him.’ I pointed at the closed door Dad had escaped behind.
‘Your dad’s old-fashioned. What if he never accepts it?’ Her eyes had gone wide.
‘Then that’s it.’ I crossed my arms defiantly. It wasn’t like I’d had such a good relationship with my dad to begin with. Not talking to him anymore at all would hardly be a loss. ‘I can’t stop living my life because my dad’s a total git. I refuse to do that.’ I’d always lived my life the way I wanted and just never told him much. He didn’t know me at all, really, and he’d never bothered to try.
Anna licked her lips nervously, glancing between Kristian and I.
‘I’m going to bed,’ I announced, tired of everything and still irritable about Dad.
How would this have turned out if Mum was still alive?
But of course I’d never find out, because she wasn’t. She was gone and Anna was here and Dad was a miserable old sod.
‘See you in the morning,’ Kristian said, giving a half-wave.
I nodded and left the room, leaving the door open instead of slamming it shut like Dad had done.
Well, that went to shit.
But what else had I expected really? I knew my dad well enough to know what he was like.
Of course, the next day, I found out Varg had got engaged. So at least someone had had a good Christmas he could look back on with fond memories.
Hopefully Kristian and I would have our own next year.